Protest rally denounces digital radio stations closure
Thousands rally outside government headquarters in Admiralty as closure looms for digital station
DBC ceased to broadcast original programming last night despite a huge crowd that turned out to protest over allegations of political interference at the troubled radio station.
Digital Broadcasting Corporation, which pledged to continue airing music for as long as it could, estimated the crowd at 70,000 as its three-day sit-in outside the government headquarters in Admiralty came to a close. The police said far fewer people attended, about 4,100.
The station is running short of cash and facing a takeover amid a boardroom feud with shareholder Bill Wong Cho-bau, a Beijing loyalist. Supporters were hoping the station's week-long "voluntary broadcasting campaign" which ended last night would convince the government to step in.
After the station's 11pm deadline to cease broadcasting passed without action, DBC founder Albert Cheng King-hon told the crowd the station would continue to air music. Doing so would allow it to preserve its licence which requires it to broadcast 24 hours a day.
"We have to keep standing for press freedom and the city's core values, or the city will die," Cheng said, vowing to keep fighting to restore regular programming. "I will not sell my shares for sure!"
Programme host and former lawmaker Andrew Cheng Kar-foo called on the crowd to continue the fight. Several activists, including Tsang Kin-shing of rebel broadcaster Citizens' Radio, said they would rally again today. Another host, Lau Nam-kwong, who went on a hunger strike on Saturday night, continued his protest last night.
Despite Cheng's pledge to remain on the air, DBC's fate remains uncertain. Wong received a court order last week allowing him to appoint two accountants to take over its operations. Wong withheld a HK$50 million investment the station and obtained an injunction barring Cheng from speaking in detail about the boardroom dispute.
Station hosts and activists claim Wong's actions are part of a political effort by Beijing to silence DBC's broadcasts, a charge that appeared to be supported by leaked audio clips of DBC board meetings played at the rally on Saturday.
In them, a man DBC says is Wong can be heard citing opposition from the central government's liaison office in arguing against the hiring of a radio host deemed "too provocative". Legal experts said whether the release of the audio clip violated Wong's injunction would depend on who released it, how it was recorded and the exact wording of the court order. Lawyer Chong Yiu-kwong said whether Cheng was involved in the leak would be key.
"There are many things that could impact whether this is a breach of the injunction," Chong said. "We really have to look at the exact scope of the injunction."
Lam Yuk-wah, a leader of the protest, said that the audio clip was obtained and leaked by a DBC staff member without Cheng's knowledge.
Wong has refused to comment on the tape but insists that he never discussed hiring host Lee Wai-ling with the liaison office.